Remembrance Weekend on the Battlefields
Most of this year’s Fifth Form historians set off on the weekend of 9 November on the traditional History Department trip to the Battlefields of the First World War. The focus was on Britain’s main contribution to the Western Front – around the Ypres Salient in Western Belgium and on the Somme and around Arras in northern France. First we visited a recently discovered trench quite close to the sea occupied by Yorkshire regiments and then went on to see the objects found there in the revamped and absorbing Flanders Museum housed in the old Ypres Cloth Hall. This was followed by a visit to Essex Farm cemetery which contains the grave of the youngest casualty, Private Strudwick, who died, aged 15 (and must have joined up illegally aged 14). It was a timely reminder that war kills the young disproportionally. Later that evening we attended the Last Post ceremony at Ypres’ Menin Gate where there are 55,000 names inscribed of the missing on the Ypres Salient (literally blown to pieces and thus never identified). A moving experience, made more so by a Yorkshire band present that evening who played ‘Anthem for a Doomed Youth’ and ‘Abide with Me’.
On Saturday we drove to the Somme, visiting the memorial to the missing in that battle at Thiepval (73,000 names). Of particular interest was a visit to a Chinese and Indian cemetery which contained the graves of sappers and labourers, many of which had died in 1919, the year after the war – they had been killed clearing up the lethal mess!
On the Sunday we held our own ‘Remembrance Sunday at Tyne Cot, Britain’s largest military cemetery, containing over 11,000 graves and 35,000 names of more missing. It was built on the site of the third battle of Ypres, Passchendaele, notorious for the endless mud. On a gloriously beautiful morning we laid our wreath at the tablet commemorating Old Bancroftian John Outram. He was killed in action during an attack towards the end of that terrible battle, aged 22, on 6 November 1917. He had joined Bancroft’s in 1908 as a day boy. Our wreath was laid by William Clulow. Four other Bancroftians read Siegfried Sassoon’s poem ‘Aftermath’ as a tribute from the class of 2012. After that we visited the moving German Cemetery at Langemarck and focused on the underground war in the tunnels at Arras before returning to Calais for an early evening ferry. The party was engaged and conducted themselves well, attracting favourable public comment as serious young people. It was a pleasure to take them on such an important visit.